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Colonie art teacher’s own family inspires her to write a book to help young children understand autism

Lisa Benanto wrote and illustrated “I Have a Brother” to help explain autism to her daughter and other young children.

Lisa Benanto wrote and illustrated “I Have a Brother” to help explain autism to her daughter and other young children.

Colonie Central High School art teacher Lisa Benanto was finding it difficult to explain to her daughter Katie, 5, the details of her 7-year-old son Brandon’s autism so she decided to write a book about it to help her understand.

“I constantly looked for books to use for my daughter, who was at the time 3 to 4 years old, to describe her brother’s disability,” said Benanto. “My intended audience is for small children because they just don’t have any books for them.”

Benanto wrote the book “I Have a Brother” from her daughter’s point of view, simply detailing the different interactions she has had with her brother where she starts to notice that he acts differently than other children. In one example, Katie and her brother are playing, but she notices he will not look at her in the eyes.

“He doesn’t look at my eyes when I say, ‘Look at my eyes. I’m talking to you,’” Benanto said, describing a scene in the book. “Or ‘Mommy said he’s like Peter Pan; it’s hard for him to grow up.’”

The book also contains some questions at the end that Benanto hopes will spark a discussion among family members to help them understand autism a little more. Benanto said her household is very open about Brandon’s disorder, which is on the autism spectrum, and it has helped her daughter have a better understanding of what it entails.

“I showed them the book and said, ‘This is you and this is you,’” Benanto said. “I read that to my daughter, and she thinks it’s cooler now.”

“She knows that she’s good at dance and making friends but know her brother struggles with making friends while he’s good at math,” Benanto said.

Benanto has had to fit writing the book between teaching and taking care of the kids, including bringing them to the many activities they are involved in. Multi-taking became key, and when she would take her kids to swimming practice, she would have a roll of paper in front of her where she would be writing out the story and drawing the pictures.

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